Friday, September 12, 2008

Are magazines losing contact with utility? James Truman thinks so

Former Condé Nast editorial director James Truman says print magazines are becoming more luxurious on their way to obsolescence.

Truman said he left the company in 2004, depressed when he saw 10 years of brutal cost-cutting on the horizon. After some thinking time in Morocco, he has come to some conclusions about the future of magazine publishing, according to a post in the io9 blog (part of the Gawker network).

He compared print magazines to horses, which became obsolete as a form of transportation when the car came along, now restricted to the wealthy horsey set. (What follows are apparently a paraphrase of the speech, rather than direct quotations.)

Similarly, the stars used to be the only means of telling directions, until the invention of the compass. Now, the stars are only there for aesthetic appreciation and fortune-telling. (There may have been a bit of tongue-in-cheekness here.) And barter was the way everybody did business, until the invention of money — at which point barter became a luxury enjoyed by rich hipsters....

So it is with print magazines, which have been superseded by improved technology. They won't go away, but there will be fewer of them and they'll be more expensive. They'll be more like books, in fact. The magazine publishing business is being transformed by super-ninjas like Armani and Karl Lagerfeld....

As magazines get to be more of a luxury item, they'll become more fetishistic and less connected to utility. And there will be more worship of the past. Truman talked about how, at Vanity Fair, the sexy pictures of Angelina Jolie had always been the most popular feature, but the spreads of old photos of events like Truman Capote's black-tie soirees were a major part of the magazine's appeal and lent it more of an air of class to the magazine.

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2 Comments:

Blogger nicholasT said...

James Truman sounds like an unhappy puppy. He failed to get the promotion that he wanted at Conde Nast. He failed in his next project with Louise Blouin MacBain of LTB Group. And probably smoked too much hash in Morocco.
Naysayers like Truman appear to have nothing better to offer to print.

8:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“He compared print magazines to horses, which became obsolete as a form of transportation when the car came along, now restricted to the wealthy horsey set.”

Horses for utility: gone. Horses for pleasure: luxury for the few.
Magazines for utility: gone? Magazines for pleasure: still an affordable luxury for lots of folks.

I may not be able to afford a luxury horse or a car in any price range – and the refill – but I can afford a magazine. Better yet a subscription. And I can certainly afford the free, controlled circulation magazine that someone thrusts at me. I’m not convinced by Truman’s reasoning.

10:28 pm  

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